Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sometimes He Just – Goes – Berserk

bjw1 Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977) begins with this narration:

“The story takes place in our nation’s capitol, when certain isolated groups of people were beginning to ask for a freeze on the building of nuclear power plants and the stockpiling of nuclear weapons.

“About six months before our story begins, Congress had appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Senator Sam Foley [E.G. Marshall], to investigate the allegations of these groups, that through campaign contributions and lucrative construction contracts, the nuclear industry had virtually gained control over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the governmental agencies that were supposed to police it.

“As our picture opens, Sen. Foley, after months of closed sessions, without warning abruptly cancels the hearing, and in an unusual move, mysteriously seals all the information uncovered during the investigation, as classified top secret, and then quietly gives the green light for the continued development of nuclear plants and nuclear weapons.”

Then Sen. Foley drops dead, leaving behind a secret envelope. Following the template of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin), half-native American righter of wrongs, is appointed to the seat on the assumption he’ll be easily led. Sen. Jack’s (I-Crazytown) main project is to build a National Youth Camp on the reservation where his longtime soul mate Jean (Laughlin’s Wife Dolores Taylor – they’ve now been together 53 years) runs a “freedom school” and will also run the camp.

But the evil figures noted above and their Congressional cats paws are determined to put a nuclear power plant in exactly the same place. That looks likely to happen unless that secret envelope re-emerges, revealing the perfidious perversions of the nuclear nabobs of nihilism. Will they succeed? What do you think?

A supporting actor with some minor success, Tom Laughlin took the reins of his career and delivered a major hit with Billy Jack (1971), where he first encounters and then defends the native American freedom school. A peace-loving fellow, he occasionally gets pushed so far that he, in his description, “just – goes – berserk” and pummels his enemies into submission. A leftish update of Shane (1953), Billy Jack puts it to the Man.

And In Billy Jack Goes to Washington, our hero becomes the Man. No big fight scenes on the floor of the Senate, though.

It isn’t that the Billy Jack movies are swamped with pontificating and earnestness – not to mention misinformation -  that makes them bad, it’s that Laughlin becomes so righteously possessed that Billy Jack’s professed pacifism and his propensity to go berserk cause the conception of the films to go a wee bit haywire.

Leaving aside quality, however, we didn’t know there had been 141 near nuclear meltdowns by 1977. A reporter tells us, “There have been so many accidents and so many deaths that have been reported.” The things you learn from movies.

We report all this because the still-fit Laughlin – he’s 78 now - has released the four Billy Jack movies onto DVD this week. Would we recommend them? Well, let’s not go berserk. They were quite awful in their day and are now quite awful and extremely dated. So we think nostalgia will guide any decision: if you were of an age in 1971, Billy Jack was the grooviest thing ever, man. If you were of any other age then or not around yet, perhaps we can just call them period pieces, salute Tom Laughlin’s determination to get them made and leave it at that.

Be sure to visit Laughlin’s Web site. It’s quite bonkers.

When will that secret envelope show up? It’ll blow the lid off the diabolical nuclear energy industry.

h/t jabootu for the narration and other tidbits.

1 comment:

Brian Mays said...

Judging from what I've seen of Tom Laughlin's films, I'd say that he appears to have an irrational fear of anything with a large budget.